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Reflection on NaNoWriMo: Snowflake vs Backwards Script Writing

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Colten Hendricks, on his recent NaNoWriMo month-long writing experience.

Beginning writers often flounder when presented with the time old advice of “just write.” What we end up writing are half-baked ideas, loose plot threads, and meandering messes all over our pages. We haven’t grasped the significance of our stories to even tell them yet so we “just write” only to end up with an unsatisfying book.

The solution is also deceptively simple: write an outline. Focus on writing the actual novel confident in what we are doing and where we are going by providing two simple and highly effective outlining models known as the Snowflake Method and Backwards Script Writing.

Novelist Randy Ingermanson is the creator of the Snowflake Method, constructing it with the belief that effective outlining looks much like a the structure of a snowflake snowflake; we start with a core idea and, from there, add details. Then we simultaneously take those details and expand them into further details allowing us to also always keep the parent ideas in mind and ensure continuity between cause and effect in our stories.

The process itself is broken into 10 easy to follow steps which follow closely to a traditional three act structure:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Expand the sentence into a full paragraph covering the setup, primary obstacles, and end.
  3. Write a one-page summary of your main characters which should include the character’s name, motivation, and a paragraph summary to their role in the story.
  4. Take each sentence in your novel summary paragraph and turn those into a paragraph each.
  5. Write a one-page synopsis of each major character and a half-page synopsis for each supporting character, preferably from their point of view.
  6. Expand each paragraph in the novel summary into a page.
  7. Fill in the details to your character profiles, from personal histories and family members to beliefs, flaws, and expected epiphanies.
  8. Take your book summary and make a list of scenes you will need, a line on what happens in them, and the POV character. Ingermanson recommends using a spreadsheet to do this step.
  9. As an optional step, return to your book outline and expand each scene into a paragraph. Most importantly, use this step to ask yourself if the scene is necessary and dramatic enough to justify its existence.
  10. Now write your book.

By step 10, we have everything we need to comfortably write with purpose. From then on, we need only go back and forth between our first draft and outline, scrapping out old ideas that we have decided will not work anymore, and adding new ideas when they arise.

Yoko Taro, a video game director known for his 2017 Nier: Automata, spoke at the 2014 Game Developers Conference on his process of Backwards Script Writing which diverges from the Snowflake Method in that instead of viewing the outlining tool as branching from a single, general idea, we instead focus on the end and the story’s emotional peak-the feelings and ideas the story is meant to invoke into your audience. Plot points provide the context for the emotional peak and are necessary in creating a reason for us to care for scenes which emotionally stir its audience. By starting with the emotional peak, we also need to ask ourselves whether a plot point contributes to that quintessential moment and, if not, should be discarded to save time for both ourselves and our readers.

Using Yoko’s example, if our emotional climax is that a girl dies and it is sad, then we need to ensure that our narrative also provide adequate reason for us to be sad when she dies. Perhaps it was her wedding day, she’s kind to everyone she meets, or the main character is in love with her. Additional emotional peaks may be added as well when needed, such as with the main character in love example since we would likely need to like our main character to empathize with him as well as sell the romance that they share.

Yoko’s Backwards Script Writing extends into worldbuilding. A lack of engagement from the audience in our worlds, whether they are fictional or not, is often due to meaningless details. Using our previous example of a girl dying and it being sad, an additional reason for us to care about the event is that the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the earth is dying and all people have long since discarded values of love and cooperation. The girl becomes a beacon of hope, treasured, giving us a reason to care. When we care about the characters, we tend to care about the world in which they exist. The Snowflake Method ensures that the writing development process remains unbroken. Backwards Script Writing makes every detail matter, enriching the storytelling.

These methods help writers migrate from amateurs to professionals as they use the combination of Snowflake and Backwards Script Writing methodologies. Begin with an outline, make the details matter, and find yourself writing better, more powerful stories.

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Labor Day 2017 Meeting at Schmidlin Farm

The Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon, will be closed for Labor Day this year. The meeting will be at Schmidlin Farm in Vernonia at the usual time. Susan and Mike have graciously agreed to host us, and tours of the farm will be available after lunch.

We will do prompts and writing exercises from 9AM to about noon, then have a potluck lunch. Please bring something to share with everyone with a small sign that indicates any potential food allergies.

As a reminder, if you haven’t signed up for the WordPress and Scrivener 4-week courses yet, head to the Center and register to ensure a spot in the classes. The first one begins the Monday after Labor Day.

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming the following week.

Have a great holiday weekend and enjoy the extended hot summer while it lasts. See you on Monday!

Never Give Up

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond.

When you feel like
You are beaten down,
Maybe you are.
Never give up!

You get bad news
Feel like you can’t go on.
Yes, you can.
Never give up!

Given a life-threatening health crisis.
Feel like life will not get better.
Yes, it will.
Never give up!

Berry picker, babysitter, nursing assistant.
Feel like you are
Overworked and underpaid?
Yes, you are.
Never give up!

Wherever life takes you
Remember to never give up
For you never know
What is waiting for you
Around the corner.
Never give up!

Writing Tips: Is There Dessert in the Desert?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Dessert is luscious, and often “sickeningly sweet” — hence the two “ss” in dessert.

The desert is too dry to support more than one “s.”

Shift the accent on desert – the place – and you have desert, the action.

The legionnaire de-SER-ted his post in the DES-ert.

Where Do Clouds Go?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond.

Clouds are beautiful.
They have their own distinct calling.
They produce rain, snow, overcast,
Or hide so clear, blue sky shines forth.

Where do clouds go?
Do they go off the face of the earth?
Isn’t the sky where heaven resides
Letting people think about their loved ones?

The earth is so unending.
One client can be hot, rainy, and snowy
For the seasons are endless.
Maybe that’s where the clouds go
To other parts of the earth.

The Athlete

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Susan Schmidlin, based upon the Prompt-a-Month: Water.

With the wind rippling the surface of the lake, the breeze cooled the picnic area while the throng of on-lookers watched. They were all enjoying the competition.

A jet boat towed a gangly teenager toward the ski ramp. The long arms and legs of the teen created quite a spectacle of awkward movements and uncomfortable contortions. Holding tight to the tow rope, he barely stayed upright as he bounced along the white water wake behind the boat. The look of fierce determination on his face belied his struggle, his bent knees barely able to stand on the bumpy chop of the lake surface.

The jet boat revved up as it came toward the wooden deck of the ramp. At the apex, he let go of the tow rope and became airborne before the downward arc of gravity took over. The voluminous splash of a perfected cannonball was the accomplished goal and the crowd cheered during that hot summer afternoon at the lake.

Local Pen Pals Needed for Forest Grove Elementary Schools

The Forest Grove Elementary School District in Forest Grove, Oregon, is looking for volunteers to be local pen pals with their students. They are eager to help children learn how to write and read cursive as well as communicate via handwritten letters with others. For more information, contact your local school or use our contact form.

I Wish

The following was written and shared by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond.

I wish upon the stars,
Stars so shiny and bright.

I wish the world would
Be at peace.

I wish that everyone
Would get along.

I wish for the homeless to be
Able to find a place to live.

I wish for happiness
And joy for all.

I wish for wishes to come
True so the world would
Be a different place.

I wish upon the rainbow that
People would just be happy.

What Would We Be Without Gardens

The following was written by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond, as part of our month long prompt, garden.

Yellow Rose Bud from Portland International Rose Garden - closeup photo by Lorelle VanFossen.Trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables, all these make up gardens. While I was growing up, we had a huge vegetable garden. My family planted cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

I remember one Fall, we grew a huge pumpkin. It was mine and it was stolen. I was very upset.

I took to foot looking for it. I found it in someone’s garage.

I high-tailed it home and retrieved my little red wagon. I snuck back there and brought my pumpkin home. While I don’t recall any other major mishaps with the garden, which was probably a good thing, I remember my family focused on keeping not only the vegetable garden but other gardens we tended, too.

To name a few, we had many flower gardens, roses, petunias, and colorful daffodils. Gardens are a lot of work to maintain with all the watering, weeding, fertilizing, and pruning. Certain flowers only bloom during specific times of the year. For example, roses only bloom in summer through early fall in the Pacific Northwest. Daffodils come up in early March, or sometimes, if the weather is unseasonably warm, daffodils come up in late February, a bright surprise at the end of winter.

Gardens that are kept up nice usually means that people care about the way their house and yard looks. Today, there are also garden flags people display in their yard which look nice.

I loved picking flowers from the garden to make beautiful floral arrangements to give to family and friends, or even to enjoy on my bedside table. They bring me such happiness, what would we do without gardens?

Who You Are

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Bev Walker.

You are the end of a million generations
foraging for food and shelter.
Thousands of times, over and over,
famine has wiped out whole nations.
Each time, one of your family survived.
Or you wouldn’t be here.

You are the end of a million generations
devastated by disease and storm.
For a million years, in a million places,
through showers of meteors,
Thousand of times, over and over
while all around them died.
One of your family was left standing,
and had to bury the rest.

You are the end of a million generations
torn apart by earthquake, flood, tornado,
arctic blizzard, every terror you can imagine,
whole nations buried beneath every desert,
Whole civilizations lost beneath sea and jungle,
now known only to birds and fishes.
Whole races gone, all gone…except
one of your family.
The result is you.

You are the end of a million generations
destroyed by war after war,
Marauding armies determined to wipe out all in their path.
Somehow, one after another,
century after century,
One of your family made it through all that;
you are the proof.

Neither they, nor you, made it because
you’re the smartest, healthiest, or bravest.
“Survival of the fittest” went out the window
the first time someone reached out
To the wounded, an orphan, a cripple, the sick;
that’s the difference between you
And the ant and the crocodile.

Through a thousand ice ages,
through whole continents ablaze,
There stood one who is still a part of you,
yes, you, and your neighbor, whatever your ilk.
You are the end result of a million miracles,
a treasure, a pearl of great price.